Monday, July 9, 2012

Online Game Helps People Overcome Health Challenges

“We need to get over this idea that games are just for fun. Games have so much potential to make us feel and think and let us explore humanity,” says Chelsea Howe. Howe is a renowned game designer, who previously worked on Zynga's FarmVille. Today, she is director of design at SuperBetter Labs, a San Francisco-based design and technology studio founded by John Yost.

SuperBetter Labs makes games that “empower individuals and communities to lead epic lives.” Its first project is SuperBetter, an online social game that helps build personal resilience – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. SuperBetter was created by Jane McGonigal, noted alternate reality game designer and chief creative officer of the company. She was also the game's first player; an accident in the summer of 2009 left McGonigal with a concussion that didn't heal properly. According to McGonigal, she couldn't read, write, or go out and was constantly nauseated. At some point during her ordeal, however, she had an aha moment.

“All of my training in game design and my research into how games provoke positive emotions and build up our social relationships – it all poked through the mental fog,” she says. That's when she decided to turn her recovery into a game. Within a week, McGonigal's cognitive symptoms began to improve.

SuperBetter, which is currently in open beta, was designed to help players achieve their health goals – whether it's healing from an illness or injury, overcoming anxiety or depression, quitting smoking, or losing weight. Backed by the fields of medicine, neuroscience, and positive psychology, SuperBetter was developed by SuperBetter Labs in collaboration with scientists, university researchers, medical doctors, and thought leaders.

McGonigal says that with SuperBetter, people can grow stronger instead of be diminished by life's obstacles. “This isn't just a theory. Scientists have demonstrated that dramatic, positive changes can occur in our lives as a direct result of facing an extreme challenge... Researchers call this 'post-traumatic growth'. We call it getting SuperBetter.”

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